So, I just read an article about how harder-to-read fonts promote better recall. Uh oh, I wondered, slides too? Yup, slides too.

Interestingly enough, most of the prevailing wisdom about creating effective PowerPoint presentations suggests that clean and lean fonts, anything sans serif – i.e. no curlycues on the letters – are best. But apparently, less legible fonts make readers concentrate harder and therefore retain better. It seems counterintuitive until you really think about it and realize that readers have to slow down and focus harder with a font that isn’t as easy to skim.

What fascinated me most, though, about the research presented in this article was that they discovered students learn better from a teacher’s or professor’s handwritten scribbles on a “chalkboard” (probably a whiteboard!) than they do from PowerPoint. Yes, this would make sense given the font proposition. And it also supports my long-held theory that drawing or writing on a whiteboard during your presentation allows your audience to be present for, and part of, the creation of your visuals … and therefore promotes stronger reinforcement and stickiness.

No matter what, though, less is always more in the retention department, so feel free to go ahead and use a busier font, or your own handwriting, but keep the number of words and lines as lean and mean as possible!

Beth Levine